The Four Nations Rugby Championship kicks off on Saturday with South Africa taking on Argentina in Durban while New Zealand and Australia face off in Sydney.
It is no secret that Springbok Coach Rassie Erasmus has 2019 Rugby World Cup on his mind in selecting the team. Testing new combinations and building for 2019 World Cup are crucial, and to that end, Sharks duo Andre Esterhuizen and Lukhanyo Am will start at centre in a test match for the first time.
Am says:”We don’t really think like that as a player you take your opportunity that’s given and just try to make the best of it, we will take it game by game and see what the coach thinks about the positions specific.”
Former Springbok captain, Eben Etzebeth leads a long line of senior players making their return to the team. The lock is rearing to get back to competitive rugby after an eight-month hiatus and he is, especially, looking forward to running out alongside his captain and friend, Siya Kolisi. Etzebeth says, “I have worked with Siya since Under 18s and to see him grow as a man and as a leader, especially in the past two years at the Stormers and the Springboks, has been wonderful.”
Not a great start
Meanwhile, the Aussies have not had the best of starts in 2018; losing their Test series against Ireland in June, 2-1. Their Super Rugby franchises weren’t that successful either, with only the Waratahs managing a play-off appearance and losing to the Lions in the semi-final at Ellis Park.
But for Captain Michael Hooper, who’s been recovering from a serious hamstring strain since the series against the Irish, this is a fresh start for both himself and his Wallabies. Hooper says, “Plenty is made about the history; plenty is made about the time; but all we can speak for is this group here right now.
“And right now, we’re sitting here on a Friday and we’ve been happy with our preparation; been happy with what the players have been putting in during the week.”
Defending champions New Zealand will start Saturday’s clash as outright favourites. According Captain Kieran Read, who will be making his first appearance for the All Blacks since undergoing back surgery last December, the focus remains on their own performance. “We haven’t looked too much in terms of what they are trying to achieve. We know they are building a team that’s hungry, you know. Certainly, perhaps slightly different preparation to what they have done in the past.”
The All Blacks and the Wallabies clash at noon. The Springboks and Pumas take to the field at five.